Wisconsin cornfields in very late fall are hard, unforgiving, and almost untravelable areas where if the weather had been right a few days early, webs of ice can collect, covering the grooves between the peaks of the rows, that sound like glass should your boots penetrate them.
As a 4th grader, I had a pair of friends that lived across that field, in a dutch colonial house. They were a couple of years younger than me, my older sister thought they were cute. We played catch a bit, ran around barnyards and fields and talked about The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes of Hazzard the night prior on Saturdays.
An older chap, owner of the property, had a fully functioning soda bottle machine in his office which was in a small building just behind the house. When he pulled up, he would give us an ice cold pop, pat us on the head and send us on our way.
These two, Randy and Stevie, had a great mom with a great smile that would chat with me at the door while the two youngsters got ready to come outside, she'd offer a treat, and giggle when the three of us ran around the yard like goofs.
This short period of pleasantry was just that: fucking short.
One day, when over there, Randy and Stevie's dog (who hated me, which was an abnormality in canines) was inside his huge, flat-topped house, making loud occasional chirping noises. It was then that I noticed the shirtless owner of the dog, father of my friends, on all fours on top of the dog house. He was peering over the entrance, swinging his belt which caused the chirps, yelling at the poor thing to stay put.
I'm not the king of bravery, especially at 9, but I must have said something, cause homeboy here told me to "mind my own business and keep my mouth shut." Which I did, as I was little and he was big, and I left, covering my ears, because I couldn't take the sound of the abuse any longer.
During this time in my life, which was a matter of a few months after my father's death, I kept my head down. A real shoe-gazer. I kept a close eye on my mom, at all times for fear of losing her too. Everything I saw, thought, or found, I seemed to think it necessary to later report to her.
I wouldn't have a regular ride-or-die friend for a couple of years, and I liked the idea of having someone nearby I could play with. On what must have been only my 4th visit was the dog experience which sent me home quickly. The 5th, Randy and Stevie introduced me to a cousin who they played with, but was much bigger and faster than I and believed in being a punk. While running around over at Randy and Stevie's house, I found a stick of smooth Oak, about 7 inches long, solid, with knots and long-ago rubbed off nubs of branches that could double as switches or buttons that gave it almost the appearance of a light saber handle. I stuffed it in my pocket, so I could show it to my Mom later that night.
While showing it to the other youngsters, this older cousin decided he wanted to see it. I tentatively showed it to him, but wouldn't hand it over. This resulted in a foot race. I made it awhile, headed toward an oasis in the middle of a cornfield with tall, high and stiff grass and a wet dirt base, that I could enter, cut one way or the other, and emerge leaving my pursuer unsure of where I was long enough to make it to my yard, and thusly safety. Unfortunately, just as I was about to leap into the "oasis" I felt him shove me hard from behind. I went down hard, chest first, and lost my breath and the light saber stick as it sailed from my coat pocket. As I lay there, gasping for my breathing to return, this kid walked around me, uttered "What have we here?", picked up my stick and flung it. To where I don't know, and disappeared from the hiding spot. It took me several minutes to regain my breathing enough to get up, at first to my knees, then to my feet. Dusk was quickly settling in, and I spent the rest of the day in a futile search for the stick. I went home, shoe-gazing and empty-handed.
Visit 6, and the final one. Randy, Stevie and I were running around in the dry field, flinging dirt chunks, watching them explode into dust clouds like Tanks in a World War II movie. Just having fun.
Until Stevie fell.
It didn't look like much of a tumble, but he was crying pretty hard. I rushed to his aid and found out the reason for the tears was he had gotten some dirt in his mouth and thought he was going to die. I actually smiled, knowing this was a fear I had at one time myself, and began consoling my wounded friend.
Then his dad came around the corner, and brought with him a hailstorm of hellfire and blame. I tried to explain what had happened but couldn't get in a word edgewise. He shouted at me to go home. I replied "I'm going!"
He shrieked for me to fuck myself, smartass that I was.
I never went back. I couldn't even talk to them, something was poisoned after that and both kids spoke in a horrible way to me going forward, drawing a quizzical shrug and correction from their mom. I felt her empathy, but their dad wore the pants in that unmarried family.
Now as an older adult, I shudder at the thought of what went on behind closed doors in that house. As I walked home with tears forming, I wish I knew then what I know now. My mom had friends. Quite a few actually; friends capable of, lets just say "evening the score". Hell, I had people like that in my family too, but I didn't know that then and didn't say a word.
This was the beginning. A quiet moment that still lingers in my memory. The start of what my sister would years later call the era of "Rob spending a lot of time alone." There weren't faces with smiles at school, on the bus, or even in my fucking neighborhood, it seems. Too many exchanges ended with vulgarity, shouting or violence
I kept my mouth shut and my head on a swivel.
I wasn't the one that fell that cold afternoon, but I was the one tasting dirt. And for years, it stayed.